Recording of our March 14, 2021 online worship service
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
Rev. Mandy Beal
Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by our Worship Associate, Abby Schreck; our Accompanist, Forrest Howell; and cantor Brian Schandevel. Our Zoom Host this morning is Jane O’Neil and our Zoom greeter is Mary Jo Ebert.
BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. Social justice is one of the ways in which we know ourselves as Unitarian Universalists. We are a capital “W” Welcoming Congregation, a designation we earned for our commitment to being fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and their families. We’re also Green Sanctuary Congregation, a designation we’ve earned through our dedication to caring for our planet.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on our website and our Facebook page. After the service, we invite you to stay for virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.
We have 3 brief announcements about ways in which we’ll live our congregation’s mission and values in the week to come
Today at 12:00 noon is the third installment of our Getting to Know UU class series. Today’s session includes a short history of BUC and a virtual tour of the church building. The Zoom link is a different link than the one you’re currently using and can be found on our calendar. And we will be ending coffee hour at 11:45 today so that we can start the class at noon.
Please join the Humanists of BUC this evening at 7:00 pm, when their featured speaker will be BUC's own Religious Education Coordinator, Nico Van Ostrand. Nico’s talk on religious education at BUC is titled "Look to the Children" and will be followed by a discussion period.
And lastly, our Celebrate our Community stewardship campaign has officially begun. By this time, you should have received your pledge packet through email or your mailbox. Please fill out the form and send it back by email, US post, or you can click a button on the website.
Thank you for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.
And now our service will begin.
Rev. Mandy Beal
We worship in our separate homes this morning, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:
We light this chalice with love and gratitude for the chalice-lighters who came before us. We light this chalice with hope and respect for those who will come after us. May we tend this flame with care and joy.
“As surely as we belong to the universe” by Margaret A Keip
Read by Abby Schreck
As surely as we belong to the universe
we belong together.
We join here to transcend the isolated self,
to know ourselves to be at home,
here on earth, under the stars,
linked with each other
Rev. Mandy Beal
The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo (username @BUCMI), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
Read by Abby Schreck
We have two short readings this morning about what it means to be a UU church. The first is by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, a retired minister and historian of Black Unitarian Universalists.
The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others.
Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.
It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community.
The religious community is essential,
for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen,
and our strength too limited to do all that must be done.
Together, our vision widens
and our strength is renewed.
The second reading is adapted from a work by Elizabeth Tarbox, a white UU minister most known for her work in the late 20th century:
And so I say ours is a story of faith
and hope and love.
I say it is our need for one another
that binds us together,
that brings us laughing and limping
and keeps us at it when we otherwise
might despair at the fix we are in.
I say it is the holy we need, the
eternal beyond our comprehension,
and one place we can find it is here,
working and worshipping together.
And I say there is a transcendent
value worthy of our loyalty,
upon which we may set our hearts,
and its divine manifestation is love.
by Rev. Mandy Beal
Well, Beloveds, we’ve found ourselves at a unique crossroads. It’s spring, it’s stewardship season, we have some hints of hope of wide-spread vaccines, and I’m about to go on parental leave. This is an excellent opportunity to stock and dream big. As with most good stories, the key to understanding where we are and where we’re going lies in understanding where we’ve been.
Birmingham Unitarian Church was created to bring the promise of liberal religion in the Northern suburbs of Detroit. Our founders broke away from what is now the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Detroit with the dream of bringing Unitarianism to their home community. They met in each other’s living rooms, at Apple Orchard Nursery School, and at the YMCA.
Over the years, BUC has faced many challenges, as all churches do. And this past year is no exception. We were challenged in ways previously unimagined and pushed into changes we did not want to make. Trust and believe that no one was excited about learning how to do everything online. But we’ve gone through this together. Just as those who came before us met wherever they could, we found a way to meet however we could.
It’s been different and new, but we’re the same us we’ve always been. We are a people who love being together. I often hear about how much people are enjoying virtual coffee hour. It’s been a way to create a less intimidating social environment for some and an opportunity for others to break out of the grooves of talking to the same people every week. We’ve continued the many of the other ways we like to be together, such as workshops, discussion groups, and fellowship meetings like the Humanists of BUC and Living by Heart. We even have game nights! Your lay leaders have done all of this because we are a people who love each other and who love being together. This is who we’ve always been, only served up with a modern twist.
We have much to be proud of this year. Our Social and Environmental Justice Council has done a tremendous amount of discernment that led to the identification of four focus areas: economic inequality, civic engagement, environmental action, and racial justice. Having this tighter focus gave our congregation a chance to go deeper into these areas. I’ll give a few examples. Our Confronting Racism meetings have taken on a more distinct shape. We’ve had lectures, and more to come, on subjects like the intersection of systemic racism and health care and the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on people of color. Our Climate Action group is having events like “How Green Can You Go” to invite congregants into a hopeful, practical discussion about how each of us can address climate change. I could keep going; each of our four justice areas has been successful and offered more opportunities for connection and putting our Unitarian Universalism into action.
We’ve found continuity in other areas of congregational life. Our Religious Education program is doing great things in new and interesting ways. I know most of you don’t get to see it in action, but there are some really good things happening, especially in GUUSH, our high school youth group. Our Music Ministry has carried on in new and innovative ways, as well. It’s been different, but it’s still going strong. And, of course, our worship life continues to foster relationships with each other and our faith. I’ve heard so many heart-warming stories of families who are able to go to church together across great distances. Stories of those whose health has kept them out of the Sanctuary feeling reconnected. Stories of families joining together in worship while a loved one is in the hospital. These and more stories of people rediscovering the weekly touchpoint of Sunday morning worship services at Birmingham Unitarian Church.
Like those who came before us, we have adapted and thrived because we believe there is something valuable about Unitarian Universalism and about Birmingham Unitarian Church. What we value about BUC is the love we feel when we are together and the inspiration we find here to move that love out into the world. We are part of a long line of religious people who believe in the power of human community to create real and meaningful change in the world. That has been handed to us over centuries, taking on different contours and contexts. It was found again in Birmingham living rooms in 1948 and we’ve found it yet again this year - online. We’ll meet to strengthen those bonds of mutual consent and concern however we have to. We are creative and we are tenacious. We still want the opportunities of liberal religion right here, in our own backyard, even if our backyard is virtual.
It’s been a long year, a hard year, but we’ve found a way to do the things that we love the most - fellowship, justice, RE, music, and worship. The things we’ve always done. And we’ve done them together, just as we’ve always done. And we’ll keep on growing and evolving, bringing with us the best of what we had before and the best of what we’ve found, just as we’ve always done. What we’ve been through this past year will change us forever; our church will never be the same, and yet we’ve always been the same - committed to Liberal Religion and to each other.
We’re all looking forward to the time when we can be in our building again. We’ll probably find a new hybrid online/in person format that will continue to foster relationships across distances. It’s too soon to know when that will be or what it will look like, but we know it’s coming. It’s starting to feel attainable. Now is the time to plan for that not-too-distant/soon-to-be/almost-here time after the pandemic.
Being on the cusp like this invites us to look back at what was and dream about what will be. We pull forward the best of yesterday to create the best tomorrow. You are the keepers of that history and the builders of that future. You make that happen. There is no church without people - people are church; we make Unitarian Universalism together; we make Birmingham Unitarian Church together. That is holy. And it is beautiful.
It’s fortuitous that we’re on the edge of these changes at the outset Stewardship Season. It’s really unfortunate, but unsurprising, that the term stewardship has become a byword for “giving money,” often spoken with a comedic groan or eye-roll. That makes me sad. I find that attitude limiting and it keeps us from tapping into the full promise and power that stewardship can be. Participating in the annual Stewardship campaign is so much more than making a pledge of financial support. A steward is a caretaker, one loves and protects something that they do not own for the purpose of handing it on to another person when the time is right. It is our duty and privilege to be entrusted with the care of this congregation that has been a source of care for each of us.
We keep our church in trust for those who will come after us, just as the generations before held it in trust for us. They found Unitarianism so valuable that they wanted to share it with their neighbors. They left an established church to start their own in a living room. They gave of their time and money to file incorporation papers with the state what was then called the American Unitarian Association. They put their resources together to hire a minister, and a staff, and build our campus. It meant enough to them that they made it happen. And now it’s our turn.
What we value about BUC is the love we feel when we are together and the power we find here to move that love out into the world. We do this through fellowship, justice, Religious Education, and our Music Ministry. And our worship life draws upon each of these areas and translates Unitarian Universalist values from the abstract to the concrete by addressing the needs and issues of the day. Your financial support is what makes this possible, but it’s more than that. It’s how you cosign on our UU values and bring them into being. It’s how we make Unitarian Universalism real; not just a thought experiment, but real. We estimate that we’ll only need about $565,000 to make that happen in the coming church year. It’s really a small price for the amount of good BUC does for us and for our community.
I’m not going to see you for a few months. I should be back in worship leadership on Flower Communion Sunday, the second Sunday of June. I leave with every confidence in our lay leadership, including committee chairs and our Board of Trustees. I have every confidence in our staff. I have every confidence in you. I can’t wait to come back and hear the stories of how you came together in my absence, the things you accomplished, the dreams you laid in store for the coming year, and the support you’ve pledged to make those dreams become our reality.